Czar of noir - Page 3

Eddie Muller paints it black with the Noir City festival

Never on VHS or DVD!" with one, 1949's Abandoned, emphasized as being "RARE AS THEY COME!!!"). But it's important to note that his programming is also deeply inclusive. Noir, like any singular, involved body of work, has its cult, but Muller's aims are broad enough to keep the festival from feeling too much like a Trekkie convention. More important to him than his specific love of noir is his audience's moviegoing experience.

"This is something that Anita really taught me," Muller explains. "When I was first programming, I'd try to load the program with all these rare, obscure things, and she said, 'No, what you have to understand is that you appeal to people who get it, but they want to bring their friends and say, 'You gotta see this! " He continues, "She was absolutely right. Show the traditional thing but book it with something obscure. Right out of the gate ... [Noir City] showed The Lady from Shanghai with [the 1950 Ann Sheridan vehicle] Woman on the Run, and Woman on the Run was the rarest of the rare. No one had seen that. We filled the Castro that night, and people went nuts for that film, and that's still the greatest moment we've had doing the festival."

Given Noir City's emphasis on the big-screen experience, it might be surprising to learn that Muller himself first experienced many of the classic film noirs on late-night television. "I saw Detour for the first time at 3 a.m. on Movies ' Til Dawn," he reminisces. "You're hallucinating these films. It's great.... To have that be your first experience of Ann Savage: 3 a.m. when you're 14 years old. You're, like, 'Who is this woman? ' "

It didn't take long for Muller to graduate to the burgeoning rep scene in '70s San Francisco, an era he reflects on in an aching piece ("Noir City, Our City") for Julie Lindow and R.A. McBride's upcoming essay and photo collection about San Francisco's dwindling movie theaters, Left in the Dark. "Theaters, as much as movies themselves, were landmarks of my early life," his contribution begins. "Films offered wishes and warnings about the life I could lead, the person I could be, but it was the movie houses that guided me through the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco, introducing me to every nook and cranny of my 49-square-mile hometown."

It was noir that gave shape to Muller's passion, and he's hardly alone in this. I've often thought that the way the classic femme fatale seduces her doomed prey is the onscreen equivalent of the way films draw in — and obsess — their audiences. A great many movies are stylish and smart to the point of irresistibility; how many times has the promise of hard shadows and unrepentant fatalism at the theater won out over a sunny afternoon in the real world?

Famous for being vaguely defined as a species — as with folk music or modernism, there are common landmarks, but everyone seems to have their own criteria — the dark crime dramas of the '40s were first christened film noir by French critics when the films flooded Paris en masse following the close of World War II. This was 1946 and, as it turns out, only the beginning. The grittiest, most whacked-out instances of noir, startling films such as D.O.A. and Gun Crazy (both released in 1950), Pickup on South Street (1953), and Kiss Me Deadly (1955), arrived as Americans wrestled postwar demons and Hollywood entered an identity crisis that hinged on both Communism and television.

Most experts close noir's door at the end of the '50s, classifying related films following 1958's Touch of Evil as neonoir (e.g., Chinatown, Mullholland Drive).

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